Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Book Review

The Poet As Believer
A Theological Study of Paul Claudel

Aidan Nichols, O.P
ASHGATE. Publ June 2011
ISBN 9781409426851

Book coverAidan Nichols has once again produced a work to help us enjoy our faith, for the promotion of joy appears to have been an important aspect of Claudel's vocation as poet and believer.

Not that Claudel was always a believer. Following an unhappy childhood, during which time he had ceased to believe, he underwent a sudden conversion at the age of eighteen while hearing vespers on Christmas day. Nichols notes that Claudel's faith was central to his life and his work.

Although his life in the French diplomatic corps was a busy one, he continued to read widely and he set aside time for writing. He was also a loving husband and father. He was especially influenced by Rimbaud and the French Symbolists, many of whom finally returned to the faith of their childhood.

As already noted, the idea of vocation was important to Claudel. For him, the dismissal at Mass means: "Go the Mass has been said. Strong and competent soul, get up and go." The poet has a distinctive vocation to bring God to people, especially by means of the imagination. There is little wonder that theologians have been attracted by his writings because they are soaked in the liturgy and his poems are rooted in the Psalms.

Claudel proclaims that the joy of eternity is what matters- even if it means suffering in this life. Such is the fate of the two main characters in his play " Le Soulier de Satin."  We are left in little doubt that their love will break open into something greater through renunciation.

In " L'Annonce faite a Marie," it is love that motivates Violaine to forgive.The price she has to pay for eternal joy is death.

In "The Five Great Odes," the poet is seen as participant in the creation process. Nichols elaborates for us a number of symbols found in this work including that of water.

Nichols has produced a wonderful thelogical study of a much neglected poet.